Commentary on
William Logan’s ‘Malabar Manual’
Nairs / Nayars


It was the establishment of the English rule that brought in peace in the subcontinent. Even inside this miniscule Malabar region, there were many small-time and relatively bigger kingdoms. Each and every one of them was incessantly in a state of perpetual warfare. And inside each of the ruling families, individual members staked their claims based on various connections, to the kingship. No one experienced any length of time of peace.

Nagam Aiya has mentioned this point very frankly in his Travancore State Manual.

QUOTE: “It is the power of the British sword, “as has been well observed,” which secures to the people of India the great blessings of peace and order which were unknown through many weary centuries of turmoil, bloodshed and pillage before the advent of the Briton in India”. END OF QUOTE

About the Malabar location and nearby areas he mentions this much also:

QUOTE: It is quite possible that in the never-ending wars of those days between neighbouring powers, Chera, Chola and Pandya Kings might have by turns appointed Viceroys of their own to rule over the different divisions of Chera, one of whom might have stuck to the southernmost portion, called differently at different times, by the names of Mushika- Khandom, Kupa-Khandom, Venad, Tiruppapur, Tiru-adi-desam or Tiruvitancode, at first as an ally or tributary of the senior Cheraman Perumal — titular emperor of the whole of Chera — but subsequently as an independent ruler himself. This is the history of the whole of India during the time of the early Hindu kings or under the Moghul Empire. The history of every district in Southern India bears testimony to a similar state of affairs.

QUOTE: The Nawab of Tinnevelly was nominally the agent of the Nawab of Arcot, who was himself ruling the Carnatic in the name of the Delhi Padisha; but beyond a mere name there was nothing in the relationship showing real obedience to a graded or central Imperial authority.

QUOTE: The Nawab of Tinnevelly himself co-existed with scores of independent Poligai’s all over the District, collecting their own taxes, building their own forts, levying and drilling their own troops of war, their chief recreation consisting in the plundering of innocent ryots all over the country or molesting their neighbouring Poligars.

QUOTE: The same story was repeated throughout all the States under the Great Moghul. In fact never before in the history of India has there been one dominion for the whole of the Indian continent from the Himalayas to the Cape, guided by one policy, owing allegiance to one sovereign-power and animated by one feeling of patriotism to a common country, as has been seen since the consolidation of the British power in India a hundred years ago. END OF QUOTE

This was a fact of life in the subcontinent since times immemorial. Beyond all this was the fact that people were simply caught and taken as slaves or sold off as slaves. There were many problems with the life of women.

Then, English rule came. There was peace. However, in the settled social life, another danger started poking its head. It was the imminent rise of the lower castes and classes. For the Nairs, the most dangerous content was the Thiyyas.

It is like a team of police constables in a police station. The local taxi-drivers are their subordinate lower-castes. They can address them as any kind of dirt. They are the Nee / Inhi and Avan / Oan.

Suddenly all of a sudden, there comes a change of scene. On the social front, there emerges a small group of taxi-drivers who come with a higher demeanour than the others. They do not accept the lower-grading assigned to them by the constables and the government. Due to the fact that these taxi-drivers are of a superior mien, the constables somehow bear the terribleness of an equality and dignity in the taxi-drivers.

Now, comes the next issue. Seeing the higher demeanour and rights of these superior class taxi-drivers, the other taxi-drivers also start acting in a pose beyond their traditional stance of inferiority. This is too much for the constables. For, they are used to seeing the taxi-drivers as a cringing lot. (In fact, I have seen commercial lorry drivers being made to beg holding on the legs of peon-level officials of the sales tax in a border check-post in a middle-Indian state).

But then what can the constables do? In the new system, they can’t beat or slap the taxi-drivers into submission. So what do they do? The go around writing their superior stance wherever they get a chance. They see to it that the taxi-drivers are not mentioned at all. Or if at all mentioned, connect them to some other taxi-drivers in another state where the taxi-drivers are treated as dirt.

Whenever a mention of the local village taxi-drivers is made, simply add a reference to the taxi-drivers of the other state where they still are treated as obnoxious objects.

Beyond that in places where they would not be disputed they would claim to be officers. The bare fact the Indian policemen were traditionally termed as ‘shipai’ would be given the go-by. Why? Because it is nowadays heard by them that in the US, the police constable is called an ‘officer’. So by going that roundabout route, they arrive at the officer grade.

However, it might also be mentioned that this issue will crop up only when the taxi-drivers get a feeling that the constables are their equals. Other-wise they do not think about these things and are perfectly happy with what they have, if they are otherwise happy.

Now, let us look into what has been the claims of the Nair folks in this book. Even though these things are ostensibly written by William Logan, they are not.

One of the very evident points is that in the location where William Logan has directly written, that is the location of history writing, especially where the records of the English Factory in Tellicherry is taken up, the Nairs are quite differently defined and mentioned. There is not anything spectacular or courageous in the Nair quality. In fact, even the word ‘peon’ is mentioned about them. The word ‘Kolkar’ is also mentioned as a peon.

In the Travancore areas, which is far south of Malabar, I had noticed a very frantic desperation on the part of the Nairs there to mention and define themselves as Kshatriyas. Various kinds of logic and historical incidences are mentioned by them to define themselves as Kshatriyas, far removed from the Ezhavas who exist just below them; and who try their level best to equate them downwards. The Nairs used to assign verbal comparisons on Ezhavas, which the latter find derogatory.

The Ezhavas take pain to mention them as Sudras. Thereby giving a hint that the Nairs are actually low-castes. However, the truth remains that the Nairs are not low-caste, if one were to go by the route of bloodline. And by mental demeanour also, they refuse to be low-caste. I will leave that there. My interest here is to illuminate the terrors that the feudal language codes have inspired in the people.

It is not easy to very categorically mention which all parts of the book are the direct writings of William Logan, which are more or less the inputs of the natives of the subcontinent. Some of the names of the native individuals who have made writing contributions are given in the book. Two names are mentioned by him in the Preface to Volume 1. They are: Messrs. O. Cannan, ex-Deputy Collector and Kunju Menon, Subordinate Judge.